The fifteenth and last volume in the Documents series, published in June 2023, covers the tumultuous final six weeks of Joseph Smith’s life, illuminating especially the events that led to his death. It features one hundred and five documents, representing the core of his documentary output during this period, including his correspondence, accounts of his discourses, administrative minutes, municipal documents, military orders, and legal papers.
Brett D. Dowdle, Adam H. Petty, J. Chase Kirkham, Elizabeth A. Kuehn, David W. Grua, and Matthew C. Godfrey are historians for the Church History Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
This concluding volume of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers details the tumultuous final six weeks of Joseph Smith’s life. He was assassinated on 27 June 1844 by an armed mob that invaded the Hancock County, Illinois, jail at Carthage. The murder was the culmination of animosities that had developed throughout the early 1840s between the Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, Hancock County, and their neighbors in and around the county.
Documents, Volume 15 features documents created between 16 May and 28 June 1844. These documents reveal a period filled with lawsuits, accusations, threats, and violence against the Latter-day Saints. During this time, Joseph Smith acted as a judge in various lawsuits and as a defendant in several others. Each lawsuit heightened tensions in the county as critics grew increasingly concerned about the extent of his power in Nauvoo. Meanwhile, a schism widened that had emerged between Joseph Smith and a small group of disaffected Latter-day Saints in the early months of 1844. Conflicts with these men came to a head during June 1844 and ultimately contributed to the murders of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum.
On 7 June members of the schismatic group published the first and only issue of the Nauvoo Expositor, which was highly critical of Joseph Smith. During its regular meeting on 8 June and an additional meeting on 10 June, the Nauvoo City Council, including Mayor Joseph Smith, discussed how the municipal government should respond to the newspaper, and it ultimately ordered the destruction of the press and all printed copies of the newspaper within the Expositor office. Following the Expositor’s 10 June destruction, Joseph Smith and others were arrested on a charge of riot. Meanwhile, threats of mob violence increased, and Joseph Smith proclaimed martial law in the city. After a litany of unsuccessful efforts to explain the decision of the city council to Illinois governor Thomas Ford, and in an attempt to appease Ford, Joseph Smith and several others traveled to Carthage to stand trial on the riot charge. While at Carthage, Joseph and Hyrum Smith were arrested a second time on charges of treason, resulting in their incarceration within the county jail on the evening of 25 June. They remained in the jail until they were assassinated at around 5:16 p.m. on 27 June.
Although much of this period was defined by the events leading to his death, Joseph Smith performed other duties in his capacities as president of the church, chief justice of the Nauvoo Municipal Court, and politician. He sent and received letters from apostles and other missionaries who were electioneering for him as a candidate for the United States presidency. He also preached to the Saints and wrote letters in his role as a prophet and religious leader.
This volume illuminates the opposition to the Saints that raged throughout western Illinois in May and June 1844 and Joseph Smith’s efforts to protect himself and the lives of his followers. It also evinces the grief experienced following his death. The Saints proclaimed the brothers “innocent of any crimes” and classed them among the martyrs whose names would “go down to posterity as gems for the sanctified.”
Teaching on Belief
Discourse, 16 June 1844, as Reported by Thomas Bullock
I bel[ieve] all that God ever rev[eale]d. & I never hear of a man being d[amne]d for bel[ievin]g. too much but they are d——d for unbel[ief].
Letter to Emma Smith
27 June 1844
I am very much resigned to my lot knowing I am justified and have done the best that could be done give my love to the children and all my Friends Mr Brower and all who inquire after me and as for treason I know that I have not commited any and they cannot prove one apearance of any thing of the kind So you need not have any fears that any harme can happen to us on that score may God bless you all Amen.